As an avid gamer, I try to pace games out so they last me a while. It’s a rare occassion for me to sit down on a game’s release day and hammer through it in the space of the day. The last time I did this was Halo 3. Arkham Asylum is another.
So, lets start from the top!
You play Batman – Gotham City’s caped and cowled Dark Knight. The game begins with an exquisite little cutscene showing the Batmobile tearing through the streets of Gotham – towards Arkham Asylum, the mental rehabilitation facility built on Arkham Island. Home to the most insane and twisted individuals Gotham City has to offer, this is the setting for the entirety of the game.
Batman arrives at the facility – sensing something isn’t right when The Joker gives up without too much of a fight, he escorts him to the patient transfer area. Along the way, you meet some of the faces you’ll be helping and defeating along the course of the story – the most frightening being the moment you meet Killer Croc and get a good idea of how massive the monster truly is compared to Batman.
With The Joker handed over to patient transfer; he escapes – entering the facility with the aid of Harley Quinn, his ex-doctor turned psycho girlfriend. Batman breaks in through a viewing port – from there, it all escalates in an excellently planned and put together story.
If you’ve seen the cartoon versions of Batman – you should be very pleased with the line up of voice actors. Kevin Conroy takes on his role as Batman once more, Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn – but the real kicker is Mark Hamill voicing The Joker once more. Everyone loves Heath Ledger for what he did as The Joker in The Dark Knight; but to a generation (mine specifically) Mark Hamill will always be the one I think of when I hear the name.
Lets get into the meat of the gameplay topic right off the start – combat, one of the greatest focuses of the game. Combat is kept basic to begin with; two buttons and the directional stick all that is needed for basic combat. One for offensive moves such as punches and kicks, one for counter. The two have been so well thought out, that they link together seamlessly and smoothly – from a single punch right until the last second, just when you think the enemy is about to land a blow against the caped crusader, and the counter button kicks in and turns the enemy into a punch bag.
As the game progresses – more elements are introduced into combat – these being batarangs, dodging and stunning. For example, certain enemies will have weapons that stop attacks hitting home. For these, you can either dodge over them and attack from behind, or stun them with a flash of Batman’s cape. During combinations, after an upgrade has been purchased (more on that later), Batman can smoothly launch batarangs at opponent, stunning them or knocking weapons from their grip. This all links in with the offensive and counter buttons seamlessly too – meaning that attacking multiple opponents (and it does happen; at least 7-8 opponents with a variety of weaponry at some points) is simple and awesome to watch, as Batman flips, kicks and punches the scum of Gotham into the floor. However – before you start to think ‘button mash’ – timing is very important to combat. If you press attack instead of counter, sure, you may hit the enemy, but there’s also a chance they could beat you to the punch. Pardon the pun. When multiple enemies are attacking you, timing is very important, as it can turn quite easily into Batman getting a beating.
Of course, a game would get boring if it was nothing more than mashing buttons in freeform combat. The second portion to the game ties in with the platforming abilities that Batman possesses. With his ever useful Batclaw – Batman can reach heights that the goons of The Joker can not – meaning he can hide up in the rafters. This forms a key part to Arkham Asylum’s second idea. During certain rooms, there will be numerous armed henchmen walking about. Armed with various projectile weapons, they intend to kill you. Batman isn’t invincible, so you have to be clever and sneaky about it. This means gliding from high places, bataranging, silent take-downs, traps. It’s all very variable. There are times where walls can be taken down by Batman’s explosive gel. Time this with a guard going by and that’s one taken down. Throw a batarang at one guard, before swooping in to kick his mate in the face before knocking him out and escaping to the rafters again is another.
This may all sound easy, but it does pose a challenge. Henchmen will run to fallen comrades, drawn by your noise if you take them down noisily. The more panicked they get, the more likley they are to start sticking together, forcing you to change tactics. Changing tactics and indeed forming tactics is aided by Batman’s cowl vision, Detective Mode – allowing Batman to see through walls with X-Ray vision, marking armed henchmen in red. This allows you to track their movements and plan out precisely how you want to take them down.
All of this gives you experience points, which go towards an EXP meter. When this is filled, you are allowed to access upgrades from Waynetech – improving Batman’s gadgets and batsuit. It’s a simple setup, upgrades are purchased based on what you want them to do, such as multiple batarang throwing or a tougher batsuit.
Getting around in Arkham is easy. You’re equipped with an all purpose grappling hook that lets you get to the rafters, from where you can leap and glide all over the facility and the grounds. Vents can be prised off allowing access to ventilation ducts when doors are locked and places sealed off. Of course, the other gadgets help with this too. Allow me to list all of the gadgets for you.
First – the ever ubiquitous batarang. A projectile weapon, a method of cutting ropes and for smashing stuff in general. The most used tool in the game, by far, except for Batman’s fists.
Second – the batclaw. Areas this thing can latch onto are highlighted. Push a button, and off you go. Later on, it allows you to pull enemies.
Third and the last one I’m going to mention, so as not to spoil the surprises, is the explosive gel. Put it on a wall, step back and make it explode with the push of a button. Excellent trap material too, stunning enemies who are too near.
Of course, not everything in the game is gadgetry and fighting. Edward Nigma, The Riddler, has left you some fiendishly difficult riddles to solve. They’re everywhere, a massive 240 of them – ranging from riddles that need to be solved by taking a scan of an object using the cowl, finding the right spot to align a question mark which can only be seen in Detective Mode, to the mundane tasks of finding little statues that he’s left, finding items such as patient interviews and maps and shattering some chattering teeth that appear everywhere you go. In my run through, I found 60% of these, and they were the obvious ones.
Solving riddles opens up extra options in the menu – such as extra challenges for Challenge mode, character statues and character biographies. The challenge mode focuses on scoring points in the combat situations to get various ranks, which are tied to online leaderboards. The character statues are essentially the in game character models being shown off – allowing the player to see them in all their glory. The character biographies contain everything a Batman fanatic could want. An image of the character, their history, personal details and in some cases – when found – patient interview tapes that are enlightening and disturbing at the same time.
The Unreal engine makes this game look beautiful. All the little details are included everywhere you look, from the crumbling stone of the facility, to Batman’s suit getting nicks and tears as the game progresses. I must also point out, that the batsuit does not suffer from the disturbing bat-nipples seen in Batman and Robin. The facial features on inmates have been crafted excellently, making each inmate look like a deranged psycho. The character designs are in keeping with the originals, but have some excellent twists. There will no doubt be some complaints from parents about Harley Quinn’s outfit, or the fact that Poison Ivy is wearing nothing but a thong made of leaves and an Arkham Asylum inmates shirt.
Faults and Nitpicks
Let’s start with the big one, shall we? Boss fights. Without naming names, a few of them felt very samey. Punch the enemy about, maybe throw a batarang or two. Of course, there are other ones that were different – these being most welcomed and greatly enjoyed. Some were not too great a challenge either. One springs to mind directly, but I’m not naming names so as to not spoil it.
Quick time events. Used to open vents and do other things later on; there’s very little point. Not on vents at least. The final time you use them, sure, I see why. Not on vents though. For shame.
Detective Mode. It’s so useful, there’s little reason to leave it – thought it does spoil the beautiful game by making it blue and all the enemies skeletons.
Combat. It can get samey; if your not doing it correctly. It’s lost inside the wonderful dynamic combat system, but you get the feeling it’s there, right at the back of your skull.
This game is excellent. It’s everything a Batman fan could want, and it’s everything a gamer could want in a beat-em-up platformer. It’s smooth, it’s sleek, it’s intuitive, damn good fun to play and most importantly, the storyline works and keeps you in stuck in there. There’s even moments you will feel rather tense and nervous.
I’ll be playing this again. I recommend you play it.